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South Slavic: October 12, 2000

12 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 37

Will The Balkan Conflicts End Where They First Started? Part II

Our participants in this Radio Most (Bridge) are Professor Ivan Siber of the Faculty of the Political Science College in Zagreb, and Professor Zdravko Grebo of the Sarajevo Law Faculty. Part I appeared on 5 October. The interviews were conducted on the eve of the 24 September Serbian and Yugoslav elections.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Siber, let me make a comparison--if possible--between the present pre-election situation in Serbia and the one on the eve of the elections in Croatia. It seems to me that the then Croatian opposition--which is now in power--had a far better situation on the ground than Serbian opposition has now. Tudjman was already dead at the time of the elections, while Milosevic is a presidential candidate in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and holds all the instruments of power.

Ivan Siber: One can never wish for someone else's death, but it would be in the interest of the Serbian people if the situation in Serbia were identical to the one we had in Croatia. Many Croats had a special relationship toward their late President Franjo Tudjman, but when he died, they became in a way freed of an emotional addiction, of an unwritten obligation. And they reacted the way they did.

That is not the case in Serbia. They are still Milosevic's prisoners. If Milosevic loses the elections, it will not matter who replaces him--Kostunica, Draskovic, or Djindjic--since it seems to me that none of them would make much of a difference. But the fact that Milosevic is not in power any more will free the human potential of Serbia. In a way, people will become more self-confident and no longer depend on an authoritarian center of power.

That psychological change could bring about the opening up of Serbia although, of course, if Kostunica is elected, he will face huge tasks such as Kosovo, Montenegro, the autonomy of Vojvodina, and the Hague tribunal [see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2000]. None of this will be easy for him.

However, I do not find appropriate the comparison between the elections now in Serbia and the ones we had in January in Croatia. It would be better to compare [Serbia now with] the 1990 elections in Croatia. The key turning point came about when the people said: "We do not want the previous system anymore, so we will vote for the one who threatens the system in the most radical way, no matter what his ideology". A similar thing is happening in Serbia now, although the regime in Serbia is far more authoritarian and totalitarian than the regime in Croatia in 1990.

Zdravko Grebo: Croatia was lucky enough to have already lost the man who symbolized the system when the elections took place. One should not be happy about someone's death, but I am afraid that it was one of the key factors that determined the outcome of the elections in Croatia.

That is not the case in Yugoslavia.... What I find important for these elections is whether the electorate is hurt and tired enough after everything that has happened to them in the last 10 years to seek a real change.

Omer Karabeg: Some people think that a weak and isolated Milosevic-run Serbia, as the world's biggest pariah, better suits Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia than a strong, democratic Serbia.

Zdravko Grebo: I doubt that Mr. Siber has had time to regularly follow statements by Bosnian politicians, but you, Mr. Karabeg, should be familiar with President Izetbegovic's statement that a democratic Croatia and a weak Serbia are the best solution for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Of course, he failed to say something about the character of his own rule. I find such asymmetry simply inadmissible.

If there is a chance for a sort of normal co-operation between us--of course, there is no question of love and brotherhood and unity anymore--then it can be done only if Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia are democratic countries.

Ivan Siber: The fact is that in the past, an authoritarian and nationalistic Serbia was quite suitable for Croatia for the simple reason that it legitimized the same sort of system in Croatia. What I mean is that such a Serbia was suitable for those in power in Croatia, not for the Croatian people and citizens.

However, what Croatia needs today is the democratization of Serbia and its opening up to its neighbors and the world. It is especially important for Croatian economy. And during the period that we spent together as part of the same country, some family and social ties were made which should not be severed just like that.

On the other hand, the opening of Serbia would put the new government in Croatia to a severe test. If they accepted the policy of opening up, economic co-operation, and green borders, they would have to face accusations from the hard-line nationalists. However, I hope that most of the population in all three countries wants co-operation with Europe and among themselves.

Omer Karabeg: Could we say that the democratization of Serbia is a precondition for the stabilization of the situation in the former Yugoslav region?

Zdravko Grebo: Absolutely so. But I [dislike it when people who have suffered now want something bad to happen to Serbia]. Thanks to its geostrategic location and [military potential], as well as to its population and all the other relevant factors, Serbia is a very important part of the political equation in the Balkans. Therefore, it would be wrong to wish for an atomic bomb to hit Serbia and make it disappear.... Nobody can turn a blind eye to a possible catastrophic scenario in Serbia, thinking that it would not spill over to the rest of the region.

Omer Karabeg: Do you think that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can remain the way it is? Some think that the disintegration of Yugoslavia, which started 10 years ago, should logically end up with a separation of Montenegro and Kosovo.

Balkan wars will end up where they first started." In another words, if Serbia entered the [19th century's Balkan conflicts] as the [tiny] Pashaluk of Belgrade, some malicious people would say that, after the latest Balkan wars, it will probably be reduced to that same size again.

However, I do not find that to be the most important issue now. We have to realize that neither democracy nor integration stops on the banks of Soca, or Kupa, or Una, or Drina Rivers. Therefore, when this region becomes open and integrated through social, cultural, and political processes, it will hardly matter at all whether the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia remains the way it is now, or whether it becomes a confederation or a group of independent little republics.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Siber, everybody is talking about open frontiers and integration, but at the same time they all want their own states.

Ivan Siber: Well yes, that is an interesting process, but at the same time, it is logical. The stronger that processes toward integration have been in Europe, the stronger separatist processes have become as well. Integration is a lengthy process....

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Grebo, do you think that the present Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can survive the way it is?

Zdravko Grebo: It can and it cannot stay the way it is. It will certainly never be the same again, whether Milosevic remains in power or someone else comes to his place. A so-called "yogurt revolution" [by Milosevic's street thugs in the late 1980s] put an end to the mild autonomies of Vojvodina and Kosovo, but Serbia can never again be established as a unitary state.

I will say something heretical that many in Sarajevo will not like to hear. We have to remember that we used to live in a country that was called the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I am not a yugo-nostalgist, nor am I--as my friend Ivan Zvonimir Cicak would say--a yugo-alcoholic, who talks about Yugoslavia only when drunk. I am simply a post-Yugoslav.

We used to live in a single country, and people in that country had different identities, which were probably repressed by an authoritarian ideology. As my colleague Siber said, a need for co-operation in sport, culture, science, etc is the order of the day. Is it not a kind of paradox that everybody seeks independence while, at the same time, via the Council of Europe or the European Union--once we are allowed to become members--they want to become parts of a very rigorous integration process?

Let me conclude: the current Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will not remain the same, but I would not want the dissolution process of that state to be violent, just as I did not want it for the former state. I certainly would not want it to be split up according to the anachronistic nationalistic pattern.

Serbia or Yugoslavia will probably not be the same after the elections. This does not mean--thanks to the sympathy we felt for the Kosovo Albanians when they were under horrible repression--that we should now turn a blind eye to the nationalistic terror against the [Serbian] minority in Kosovo. This can only lead to a senseless fragmentation.

Omer Karabeg: And finally, let us go back to the elections in Serbia. Do you support the Serbian opposition and its candidate Vojislav Kostunica?

Ivan Siber: I shall quote the sharp-witted politician from Vojvodina, Nenad Canak: "Dear voters, hold your noses and vote." It seems to me that this message expresses the essence of what is happening in Serbia today. Kostunica is not my choice, but Kostunica is a precondition for Milosevic to be replaced, and this is the precondition of all preconditions.

Zdravko Grebo: I do not know what to say. I certainly do not support either Vojislav Mihajlovic, the candidate of the Serbian Renewal Movement, or Tomislav Nikolic, the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party. Therefore, if I have to choose between Milosevic and Kostunica, then it seems to me that I have no choice--it is Kostunica.